Monday, January 2, 2012

The Judge Who Teaches Judges to Judge

January 1, 2012
Our favorite activity today was a presentation by Dr. Tommy Cairns, an internationally renowned rose expert and exhibitor who has earned judging credentials both in Britain and the United States Rose Societies.  He has been a float judge in the past, and currently serves as the parade’s Judge Instructor.  

He gave us a very entertaining and information-packed presentation on the art of judging floats, provided a summary of the criteria for the 24 trophies awarded, highlighted features of exceptional floats from past parades, and previewed some of his favorites that will be in this year’s parade.   

The weighted scoring system is too complicated to get into here, but suffice it to say that for each float there are something like 26 factors for which each of the three judges gives a 1-10 score.  The judges see each float twice—once the day before it is complete and once the day before the parade, when it is complete and all riders are present and animation elements are in motion.  The float designer has an opportunity each time to make a statement to influence their impressions—two minutes at the first viewing and one minute at the second viewing.  The judges all get together over dinner at the end of the final judging day to decide on the trophies, by consensus.   They announce the results at 6 a.m. on parade day.  

Here are some of the principles of float design he shared with us that helped us look at the floats through the eyes of the judges: 

“This is a floral parade, not a seed parade.”  Every single centimeter of the float has to be covered in natural materials.  Seeds and vegetable matter are fine, but they should be used in moderation, to complement the flowers that are the stars of the float.  Most important of all the flowers are roses, since this is the Rose Parade, after all.  The winning floats will have roses in quantity and quality--a range of colors and a creative presentation is a plus. 

The floats have to demonstrate symmetry, but have asymmetrical elements for interest. They have to be decorated equally well on both sides—no fair showing preference to the side where the reviewing stands and television cameras are set up.  The back of the float is a sometimes neglected area—winning floats leave you with a lasting impression from their sign-off, holding your eye until they pass from sight.  Based on everything he said, we have high hopes for our China Airlines Dragon, which seems to demonstrate all his principles and is far more beautiful than any of the other dragons on floats he included in his presentation.

(Preview of coming attractions--this is the China Air float in the parade tomorrow!)

In the afternoon we visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the La Brea Tar Pits next door . The tar pits trapped and preserved unwitting ice age animals over 15,000 years ago and have continued to collect victims ever since.   We were amazed that the pits still sit there bubbling up gas and smelling of asphalt today.

LACMA is a complex of buildings that are more memorable and exceptional than the works of art inside them.  As Dick observed, the ratio of building size to content volume is perhaps the highest we have seen in an art museum—expansive galleries with lots of empty space between and around their contents is perhaps a style statement illustrating the California contemporary aesthetic, but it seems a waste of space to us Midwesterners.

 Anyway, we loved the bold and beautiful architecture, and sparked to some of the sculptures.  Dick was particularly charmed by this larger than life Jeff Koons balloon animal sculpture.

 We thought that a small exhibit of four Monet paintings of Rouen Cathedral and four Lichtenstein “manufactured Monets” (his words) based on the Monet paintings was a great example of the mediocrity of guys like Lichtenstein and Warhol, compared to their Impressionist predecessors.  We know this was not the intended take-away from this exhibit, based on the interpretive labeling, but we beg to differ.

In honor of the mountains that surround us wherever we go here, I close with the words of Chinese Song Dynasty painter Han Zhou.  “In painting landscapes, colors should reflect the four seasons:  spring mountains should be as sensual as a smile, summer mountains as green as  dewdrops, autumn mountains as bright and clean as washing, and winter mountains as somber and quiet as sleep.”  The mountains we see from our window reflect all these seasons as the sun rises and sets, and as we admire them in the brilliant sun.  Today the air is so clear that they are “as bright and clean as washing.”

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